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The Origin of Tofu – Will We Ever Know Where It Came From?

Tofu has been around for centuries now, however the origins of tofu are something that may never be known. The theories behind it’s origin are fascinating to say the least! Today we’re going to take a look at some of the most common theories of the origins of tofu and see which make the most sense and if any of them could be plausible enough to be the truth.

Lord Liu An

img_1707Having taken a look at these theories, it’s difficult to know which holds the most truth and this in turn makes it hard to determine when tofu was invented. One of the most common theories is that it was invented in northern China around 164 BC by a Han Dynasty prince know as Lord Liu An. Whilst it is possible that Liu An could of been the inventor, the lack of concrete information about this period makes it difficult to be able to conclusively determine that he was the one to invent the method for making tofu.

In fact, the first claim concerning Liu An was made by Zhu Xi during the Song Dynasty, some 1,000 years after the supposed invention. While this could make the theory less credible, it’s worth noting that in Chinese history, important inventions were often attributed to important leaders and figures of the time. In 1960 a stone mural unearthed from an Eastern Han dynasty tomb provided support for this theory, however some scholars maintain that the tofu Liu An made was rudimentary and lacked the firmness and taste of real tofu.

An Accidental Discovery?

A different theory states that the production method of tofu was discovered completely by accident when a slurry of boiled, ground soybeans was mixed with impure sea salt. Such sea salt is likely to have contained calcium and magnesium salts which would of allowed the soy mixture to curdle and produce tofu-like gel. Some types of tofu, particularly Korean sundubu and Okinawan tofu, are still produced in a similar manner traditionally using seawater as a coagulant. It is possible that this is how tofu was discovered since soy milk has been eaten as a savoury soup in ancient as well as modern times. There is however little evidence to prove, or even disprove, that tofu production originated in this way.

img_1778Milk Curdling Techniques

This final theory is a sort of combination of two and that is that the ancient Chinese learnt the method for curdling soy milk by emulating the milk curdling techniques of the Mongolians or East Indians. The theory suggests that the basic method of production was learnt from the cheese making process adopted by the Mongolian tribes living in the Northern Border of China. It’s also thought that the method came from the dairying tribes or Buddhist monks of India.

Despite the advanced culture of ancient China, no technology or knowledge of culturing and processing milk products existed within their society. It is considered that they did not seek technology due to the Confucian taboo on fermented dairy products. The primary evidence for this theory is the similarity between the Chinese term for Mongolian fermented milk (rufu, which means milk curdled) and the term dofu or tofu. Although this means it could be possible, there is not enough evidence to support this theory beyond speculation.

All in all, it seems we are no closer to finding out exactly where tofu originated from but it is interesting to look at the theories behind it’s creation and consider the possibilities within these claims. We may never know precisely where it came from, we may only be able to guess for a number of years, unless irrefutable evidence becomes clear in the future. For now though, let’s take the opportunity to try out some new products and broaden our horizons, particularly with Dragonfly Foods award winning organic tofu!

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